Frequently Asked Questions: BPA in Socks

What is BPA?

BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that is often used in plastics to make them clear and strong. BPA can be added in the manufacturing of polyester as an intermediary step to improve the natural properties and lifespan of a fabric. BPA is also in epoxy resins that can line water pipes and food cans, and is used in receipt paper. Although BPA is the most well-known bisphenol, there are dozens of other bisphenols (often called BPA replacements) out there that are chemically similar to BPA and cause similar adverse health effects.

BPA is one of the better known endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals look  and act like hormones in the body, which confuse the endocrine system and cause disruption of its normal functions. Since the endocrine system is responsible for metabolism, growth and development, reproduction, and so much more, any changes in your endocrine function can cascade into a number of negative health effects. Scientists are finding out more every day about the harmful health effects of EDCs.

What does BPA do to the body? What are the health effects of exposure to BPA for a baby? What about for a young person or adult?

BPA can mimic hormones like estrogen, and hormones send signals to the fetus or baby and direct how the cells grow and develop. BPA can disrupt this signaling and can alter how cells develop and reprogram body systems. Some negative health outcomes associated with BPA exposure in babies, children, and young adults are developmental harm, delayed onset of puberty, anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity.

  • Female reproductive toxicity: BPA is known to affect development of ovaries with increased incidence of ovarian cyst formation and affects the development of mammary glands with increased incidence of breast cancer.
  • Developmental toxicity: Prenatal exposure is linked to adverse birth outcomes, metabolic disorders, early onset of puberty, overactive immune response including increased incidence of allergies and asthma, as well as effects on the development of reproductive organs. 

What is a hormone disrupting chemical? Why should I care?

Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers, responsible for regulating normal functions like digestion, sweating, and sleep, among many other things. Hormone disrupting or endocrine disrupting chemicals, as their name suggests, interfere with the normal function of this messenger system either by mimicking or blocking hormone receptors. BPA, by mimicking estrogen, can disrupt your body’s hormone signaling and alter body systems.

Where does BPA come from?

BPA is a synthetic chemical that is made by petrochemical companies. Chemicals like benzene and propylene are synthesized to make phenol and acetone, which are the common feedstocks for BPA. 

How is a person exposed to BPA in socks?

BPA exposure typically occurs through ingestion (water bottles, food can linings, food containers) or by absorption through skin (receipt paper). With socks, the primary pathway of exposure is absorption through the skin. Since babies stick everything in their mouths, there is the additional likelihood of ingestion.

Studies have shown that BPA can be absorbed through your skin and end up in the bloodstream after handling receipt paper for seconds or a few minutes at a time. Socks are worn for hours at a time, so it is concerning to be finding such high levels of BPA, particularly in those made for babies and children.

Do other socks have BPA? Is there guidance on socks / brands that did not contain BPA? Have you tested non-polyester socks?

We tested socks with different blends of polyester, cotton, and spandex and found significant amounts of BPA in socks made of a polyester/spandex blend. CEH has not found BPA in socks predominantly made from cotton or other natural fibers.

Is this a problem in other materials made with polyester?

We will continue to share updates if our testing determines that any products have unsafe levels of BPA.

Should consumers continue to wear socks that were on the list if they have no other socks?

We encourage you to join with us to demand companies remove BPA from socks. Until the companies agree to remove the BPA, we encourage you to limit your exposure or time wearing socks from the brands on our list and to shop for socks made from cotton, wool, or other natural fibers and when possible, avoid buying socks with polyester/spandex blends. 

Is there a way to obtain test results that would have quantitative data?

Our legal efforts to force companies to reformulate their products to remove BPA from socks are ongoing. As we are in active litigation, we cannot make our test results and quantitative data on socks available.

I’ve heard that BPA is very dangerous in small doses (“the dose does not equal the poison”). What does that mean here, what do results tell you or show insofar as the degree of the problem and how that relates to BPA’s health hazards? (if there’s a lot of BPA, does that make it a non-issue?)

In the case of several endocrine disrupting chemicals, the dose does not equal the poison meaning that increasing exposure doesn’t increase adverse health effects in a linear fashion. This does NOT mean more BPA exposure is not dangerous – it just means that any BPA exposure, even at low doses, is dangerous to your health. 

The Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment (OEHHA) set a limit of 3 ug/day of dermal exposure.We have found socks that are in violation of this California law, with some levels exceeding 31x the set limit.

What does CEH want these sock companies to do?

CEH uses Proposition 65, passed by California voters in 1986, to push companies to reformulate their products or adjust their manufacturing processes (which sometimes means working with their supply chain) in order to eliminate or remove the toxic chemical(s) of concern that would otherwise require a health warning.

This case is no different – no one should be exposed to BPA in their products, no less in their socks – and baby socks at that! This is a harmful chemical with well known health and endocrine disruption effects, and we don’t want it in products, period. Generally speaking, and in this case, we want to force companies to find alternative, healthier solutions to the toxic chemicals in their product manufacturing, or eliminate the chemical entirely.

What spurred CEH to look at BPA in baby socks? What motivated CEH to zero in on BPA in baby socks for Prop 65 enforcement?

CEH has worked to protect people from toxic chemicals since 1996. Our work has included removing BPA from food can linings and receipt paper. When we read a study that pointed to potential for BPA in baby socks, we decided to do some additional testing. 

We have been able to change entire industries – leading litigation that removed the lead from markets like fashion accessories, candy, children’s bibs, and lunchboxes; flame retardants from furniture and nap mats; cadmium and lead from jewelry – all using Prop 65 as a legal tool to protect people’s health.

Does this mean that BPA gets into our waterways after washing socks that contain BPA?

It is possible that BPA makes it through the wastewater treatment process into waterways, as it is difficult to filter endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from water.

Your action is focused on infant, kid, and women’s socks – is it a problem for all socks? Why do you specify women’s socks in your notice?

We did focus on testing infant, children, and women’s socks. We focused on these types because, under California law, BPA is listed as a female reproductive toxicant and is known to cause reproductive harm. Therefore, we decided to test products marketed to women and girls for the purposes of these notices. It’s important to recognize that BPA is toxic to all people, and we suspect it is found in a wide range of products. Socks do not need to contain harmful BPA, and we call on these companies to remove BPA immediately.